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Yang Yongliang2021
Press Release

Qi Lei:The Trembling of a Leaf



Written by Lu Mingjun


In early 2018, Qi Lei concluded his travels in Myanmar and returned to his studio in Beijing. It was during this time that he embarked on a creative endeavor to capture the sights, sounds, and reflections of his journey. Over the years, he has completed numerous series of artworks exploring various themes inspired by his experiences. Presently, this exhibition stands as his second major showcase following the successful solo exhibition titled "Stalker" held in 2019.    


From Henry Rousseau to Peter Doig, the portrayal of forests and jungles in the history of art is far from rare.  In fact, one could argue that there is an abundance of such works.  Moreover, as the quintessential scenic and geographical characteristic of Southeast Asia, it has always been one of the most commonly represented themes by local artists. Undoubtedly, this presents a significant challenge for Qi Lei, an artist residing and working in northern China. Nevertheless, it is precisely the enigmatic nature of the jungle as an unfamiliar realm that lures him into exploring this expansive territory.


The exhibition is entitled "The Trembling of a Leaf," derived from W. Somerset Maugham's collection of short stories by the same name. However, this phrase was not originally coined by Maugham, but rather stems from a famous quote by the 19th-century French literary critic, Charles Sainte-Beuve: "To distinguish extreme happiness from immense disappointment, one must only observe the trembling of a leaf. Isn't life just like that?" Maugham's collection consists of six short stories that were inspired by his travels in the Pacific region. "In these stories, the exotic and perilous landscapes of the South Pacific islands are depicted as both beautiful and treacherous, serene yet enigmatic, endowing the works with a mystical and enchanting charm," while also exploring the depths of human nature. Although Qi Lei's time in Southeast Asia was fleeting, it left a profound impact on his senses and perception.


The subject matter of these paintings is largely derived from the photographs the artist took during his time in the jungles of Myanmar. Within his depictions, Qi Lei skillfully incorporates various elements from art history and contemporary visual culture. The jungles portrayed by Qi Lei hold symbolic significance, presenting not only verdant green forests, but also variations such as blue-toned jungles, ochre-toned jungles, and even purple-toned jungles. The color blue bestows a poetic and dim light upon the savage jungle, while the ochre color symbolizes a world set ablaze and an earth turned to ashes—where even the jungle is not spared. In contrast, purple signifies a summoning of sacredness and glory within the already secularized primal scenery. In his depictions, Qi Lei shows traces of influence and inspiration from Rousseau and Doig. He retains the contours of leaves, tree trunks, and all tangible objects, while emphasizing the layers of vegetation and the three-dimensionality of each element. As suggested by the exhibition's theme, "The Trembling of a Leaf," the overall composition appears to capture a dynamic scene. However, under the artist's brush, these scenes transform into monumental installations akin to the monumentalism found in Anselm Kiefer's "Mézangé," thereby infusing the artworks with a touch of the avant-garde.


The figures (mostly travelers) and the wild beasts in the paintings were originally integral parts of the jungle; yet, in this context, they become unexpected and inadvertent "intruders," perhaps just like these alienated jungles, mere survivors seeking an escape. It is not difficult to discern the shadows of Botticelli, Courbet, and Gauguin within the scenes, yet here, art history also emerges as a survivor. The lost travelers have cast aside their fears and anxieties, and even leopards and lions, natural adversaries, began to hunt together. Although Qi Lei's paintings do not depict bloodshed or violence, the sense of being lost and the absurdity conveyed may be the most profound allegory of the real world.

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